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Is your IT infrastructure ready for mass employee remote working?

17 March 2020

The outbreak of Covid-19 has reminded us that there is a wide variety of reasons why a large portion of your teams might need to work remotely all at the same time. If you’re not prepared for it, this could lead to thousands of hours of lost productivity when your system can’t cope with all of this remote access.

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Typically, only a small proportion of your company will be simultaneously working from home, so you have no idea if your system could cope with a sudden increase in demand. Situations such as virus outbreaks, unexpected damages to your office, flooding and other extreme weather conditions, can cause your entire workforce to be forced to work from home. If your computer system is unable to keep up with this increased demand, then your entire business could grind to a halt, especially if your technical team are also working remotely and therefore can’t easily be on site to fix anything.

What are the issues your system could face with remote working?

In an ideal world, your employees would be capable of the same level of work at home as they can achieve in the office. Unfortunately, that is just not possible if your networks and infrastructure have any of the following issues when the number of remote workers suddenly increases:

  • Decreased speeds – Even if the system continues to function, if the speed at which your employees can complete tasks slows down drastically, then their productivity will drop, and they’ll probably grow quite frustrated as well.
  • Insecure connections – In the age of GDPR, a lot of people’s day-to-day work sees them handling sensitive data that it is your company’s responsibility to protect. If your remote working connection isn’t secure, this could cut out whole sections of people’s jobs that they are unable to complete at home.
  • Complete failure – There is also the risk of complete system failure as a result of it being overloaded. Happening at a time when communication with your employees will be more difficult, getting the message out about repair times, and the system being back up (if you can restore it) might not reach everyone, leading to even more lost productivity.

Remote working guide - 20 tips for your company's IT

So, how do you solve issues with mass working from home?

  • Regular tests – To check your system can handle the increased capacity, it’s important to test them (more on that later).
  • Check your connectivity – Connectivity is of central importance as it covers two of the three problems: speed and security. Strong and fast connectivity ensures your employees can work unimpeded, and the type of connection you choose is vital to providing comprehensive security.
  • Is there work that can be done offline?  – This reduces the number of people connecting in at any one time.  It also means that if your system does go down, there will still be some work your employees can complete.

Remote workers and security 

In terms of accessing the network, VPN is typically the more secure option as it offers an encrypted channel. There are measures you can take with public cloud to increase security, but ultimately you are still using the public internet. With the right provider, private cloud can offer the best of both – the simplicity of cloud computing but with optimum control over security.

However, it’s also important to note adding new devices to a network – devices that you may not have had the chance to health-check – always poses a risk. In adding endpoints, you add access points for cyber criminals. You can mitigate this risk by implementing a work-from-home security policy and supporting workers to develop and implement best practice cyber hygiene.

Which parts of your system are business-critical?

Identifying which parts of your computer systems are business-critical is central to a good disaster recovery plan, as it lets you organise a list of priorities, and keep your business running even in difficult situations.

If you have platforms that cannot be allowed to fail, under any circumstances (the platforms your customers use, for example) then take extra steps to protect these systems. If you’re struggling with slow connection speeds then prioritise these systems and ensure they’re running acceptably fast. This might, unfortunately, be at the expense of speeds being even slower for other users, but if they are employees and sympathetic to your issues, then this will be the right business decision.

Additionally, if you can’t afford to backup your whole system, identifying what’s most important and backing up those specific parts can be a cost-effective way to ensure your business keeps operating, regardless of the disaster that has affected it.

How should you test your system?

Performing a rigorous test of your remote working systems can show you where your issues lie and let you fix them before any disasters strike, and it becomes too late to do any maintenance. To thoroughly test your systems, follow these steps:

  • Send your whole company home early one afternoon (not on a Friday), and ask them to continue working from home.
  • Monitor your systems during that afternoon, and if any issues are flagged, however minor, note them down and see what changes you can make to prevent these.
  • The next day ask your staff to report any issues they had, as they might be able to highlight problems that your monitoring didn’t pick up.

Once the test is complete, make appropriate changes so that the same issues don’t reoccur. This is not a one-time occasion, and make sure you are testing your system at least once a year.

What else can you do?

A disaster that disrupts your employees – whether it’s extreme weather, a viral outbreak, or a fire at your office – will happen suddenly (as we've recently seen), which is why it’s important to be prepared. No matter what insurance you have in place, the cost of lost work hours caused by your staff being unable to effectively work from home will be lost, and this will hit your business hard, financially.

Working with a data centre will improve your system’s connectivity and reliability, making your business better equipped to support a remote workforce. To learn more about what services a data centre can provide, read our guide Exploring Colocation.

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